Reed Smith LLP - True Picture

You won’t be caught in the reeds at this US export: trainees get into the depths of “market-leading deals” in a firm that’s still “got a human touch.”  

Reed Smith training contract review 2021

The Firm

It may be headquartered in Pittsburgh and boast 30 offices across globe, but London is actually Reed Smith’s biggest office, with the City’s Broadgate Tower housing no fewer than 380 of its lawyers. Internationally, Reed Smith shines when it comes to its shipping expertise (both on financing and litigation fronts), which is ranked by Chambers Global in various jurisdictions but most notably in the Asia-Pacific region. Other strengths from its US roots include insurance, healthcare, corporate M&A, private equity and bankruptcy/restructuring. Many of these areas are prominent in the London office too, and it comes as no surprise to find RS rated as one of the best in the UK for its insurance, shipping and commodities work. The office is ranked for many of the typical big City practices too (like banking, corporate, litigation and real estate), but is particularly commended for its work in the media & entertainment space, especially when it comes to the music, film, TV and gaming industries.

When speaking with our US sister guide Chambers Associate in 2019, firmwide managing partner Sandy Thomas told us that the firm will continue to grow in line with client demand, but that growth won’t come at the expense of RS’ employees’ wellbeing: “That’s at the front and centre of our strategic development. We handle really important issues for others, which often involve a lot of conflict. There are some stresses we can’t eliminate, but others we can.” For our trainee sources, it was this kind of culture and atmosphere that won out when it came to making their decision on where to train. Interviewees were keen to flag that despite the assumptions people make about US firms, “it’s not full of Type A people,” with this trainee declaring: “I’m not cut out for a cut-throat firm!” Another explained that “it’s not a caricature firm where it’s all bill, bill, bill and everyone’s angry all the time.” Phew.

The Seats

Seat allocation has “definitely improved” since the arrival of a new trainee development officer in 2019. Trainees previously gave four seat choices without any form of discussion with HR, but now get to meet with HR after submitting their (unranked) preferences. Some felt that “it’s more personal now and you can tell they take our preferences into account,” while others were of the opinion that “you still don’t get much input, so it’s a mildly opaque process.” Every incoming first-seater must indicate four seat and four (ranked) secondment preferences, but this is optional for their following seats. International secondments to offices in New York, Athens, Singapore and Dubai are offered every six months, plus a handful of client options like stints at Shell and Barclays.

Transport is “an excellent place to start for a first-seater,” an insider suggested, given the high volume of client contact and the partners’ dedication to showing newbies the ropes: “The volume and variety of work means that your legal skills will progress more than they might in another practice area.” This department used to be called ‘shipping’ but underwent a name change in 2019 as it covers both shipping and aviation matters (though seafaring affairs form the bulk of the practice). The shipping portion deals with both ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ matters. Wet shipping usually involves things that happen at sea, like vessel collisions and pollution issues, while dry shipping covers the contractual elements (like a charter party), though both strands have disputes elements. We assume their names are ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ because the sea is wet and contracts are dry (joke!). 

“The arrests were the most exciting part because I got to work with foreign lawyers on high-speed and very commercial issues.”

Trainees work in either the transport litigation or asset finance sub-groups. Litigious work on the wet side involved researching different areas of shipping law, managing hefty disclosure exercises and assisting on various international vessel arrests: “The arrests were the most exciting part because I got to work with foreign lawyers on high-speed and very commercial issues.” On the finance side, “the team deals with client bids on non-performing loans, so trainees do the due diligence and project management, which involves navigating big Excel spreadsheets.” The finance folks gave fewer positive reviews than their litigation counterparts, citing low levels of client contact and an admin-heavy role. Long hours are to be expected here, but at the same time “the team does some very impressive market-leading deals. The commitment to the job that the associates and partners showed was eye-opening.” All the big financial institutions appear on the client roster, like Deutsche Bank, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and HSBC, plus key industry players like shipowner Gard, specialist marine insurer Standard Club and emergency management company Ardent. The team recently represented Donjon-SMIT OPA-90 (a marine salvage and casualty responder) in a wreck removal matter after the ‘Golden Ray’ vehicle carrier capsized near the Port of Brunswick in the US.

Those in real estate unanimously agreed it was a good place to start “because the hours are generally very consistent, so it gives you time to ease into your training contract and form relationships.” (Most people rock up at 9am and clock off around 7.30pm, we heard.) It’s a “very chill” group, so sources felt comfortable asking questions. Trainees typically end up working on both transactional and litigious matters. The former involves drafting lower-value leases and licences and managing data sites, while the contentious arm is, unsurprisingly, “very adversarial.” Interviewees enjoyed the problem-solving aspect of planning advocacy but weren’t too keen on “the large amount of paperwork when you’re amending deeds and leases” on the transactional side. A lot of the work is precedent-based so there’s plenty of drafting practice to be had, plus a high amount of client contact: “I ran matters from start to finish and arranged the billing too – you get lots of responsibility early on.” The team generally gets involved in all sorts of development and portfolio deals worth over £100 million. Clients here include asset management firm Oaktree Capital Management, the Daily Mail & General Holdings, and engineering company Arup. The department recently advised private equity outfit Reuben Brothers on a £200 million development project in Newcastle and investor Alpha Real Capital on a deal that established ground rents across its £1 billion portfolio of London hotels.

“I ran matters from start to finish and arranged the billing too – you get lots of responsibility early on.”

Oddly enough, the financial industry group also does a fair bit with investors. For instance: the London office recently contributed to a 40-person-strong team of RS lawyers across Europe, Asia and South America that represented a global investment management firm during the securitisation of a €535 million loan portfolio secured by shipping vessels, real estate and wind parks (some of which were subject to international enforcement proceedings). Crikey. Some trainees worked in the structured financesub-group, where they managed conditions precedent (CP) checklists and drafted documents for wider securities transactions. It’s reportedly a great seat training-wise: “My supervisor would draw out the structure of a deal on a whiteboard to show me where each agreement went in the deal and went through everything clause by clause so I knew what I was doing.” Even though it’s a technical area of law, trainees enjoyed the seat “because you’re really encouraged to ask questions, and late nights are easier when you’re surrounded by lovely people!” That said, 11pm finishes are few and far between, thankfully. Although some “mindless doc review” is par for the course, rookies enjoyed liaising with internal teams and external counsel on bids for non-performing loan portfolios, and getting the responsibility to run matters, “which showed the trust and confidence the team had in me.”

There’s less responsibility on offer over in labour & employment, according to sources, who put this down to the fact it involves high-value and complex issues. Rookies experience both the litigious and transactional elements of employment so it’s “a very varied seat with a range of tasks.”Trainees are expected to handle bundling, draft settlement agreements and take notes at hearings on the contentious front. Whatever they were doing, sources found the subject matter more engaging than it can be in other seats and “received great one-to-one training from the partner-supervisor.”This combo made the department a target for qualification for some interviewees.The most exciting part of the seat was said to be attending tribunals: “It was good to see how things work in practice and being able to meet clients and listen to them every day.” Given its cross-border capabilities, the firm has recently assisted Netflix and Alibaba with the employment elements of their respective international expansions. Other clients include Channel Four, PwC, Microsoft and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Trainees were pleased with this team’s relaxed start time and consistency (sources would typically know how their week would look in advance), although the day wouldn’t usually end until 9pm. 

Reed Smith’s global commercial disputes team covers a hefty mix of finance, insurance, white-collar crime and media disputes, as well as public inquiries and international arbitration matters (on both the commercial and investor-state side). Trainees can experience all of these areas or opt to focus on just one. Insiders pointed out that not many City firms handle international arbitration, “so I got a unique insight into something which is essentially its own body of law, plus there were loads of different procedures to learn, which was interesting.”This branch attracts several industry-leading clients, like Shell, mining company Vale and specialist protection & indemnity (P&I) insurer Steamship Mutual Insurance. The group recently represented a consortium of defendants – including Ukrainian oligarchs – in a $1 billion dispute concerning Crimea-based assets and allegations of conspiracy (among others) arising from the sale of major steel corporation, Industrial Union of Donbass – one of the largest transactions in Ukrainian history. 

We’re told that the public inquiry side involves associate-level work: “I reviewed literally thousands of documents to find evidence that helped our client and helped frame our arguments, which was exciting!” Although “there’s a lot of responsibility for someone fresh out of law school,”trainees are also expected to handle the “standard, boring tasks” like bundling, “which is possibly the worst thing in the world. You can’t get away from it, so I don’t want to be a litigator anytime soon!” said a more transactional-oriented source. Despite this, “the team lets you take on more and more responsibility, so by the end of the seat you get more drafting work and take control of trial prep.” Sources scored this seat highly for enabling them to develop their legal skills but revealed that partner and client contact is few and far between and that the hours can be long: on occasion sources had worked until 4am. At the same time, multi-lingual trainees were pleased they got to make use of their language skills by translating documents. In fact, RS has a database of its trainees and lawyers who speak a foreign language in case they’re needed on a billable or pro bono mater: “We’re an unusually multi-lingual intake: half of us are non-English.”

Trainee Life

Interviewees tended to agree with this assessment of the support available at RS: “Throughout every seat, I felt like the higher-up lawyers looked out for me like parents do. Even though partners don’t have much spare time, they want us to think they do. In a nice way!” Trainees were pleased to have regular catch-ups with their supervisors but at the same time didn’t feel micro-managed. “They don’t have to be about work,”said one source about their supervisor chats. “I actually talk to mine about everything except work!” RS’ London managing partner, Andrew Jenkinson, also got a shout-out: “The way he leads the firm is inspiring. He creates such an open and warm atmosphere which I didn’t think was possible in private practiceby doing things like bringing his husband to events.” As to preserving good mental health, the firm has a 'Wellness Works' programme which includes mindfulness events and initiatives to encourage healthy living.

“In the main people stay positive – even when the stresses of the job are at their most acute.”

The diversity and inclusion groups play quite a large part in the social life at RS; examples trainees talked about included a breakfast seminar to celebrate Chinese New Year and a talk about transgender issues in the workplace. The firm also curated videos of RS people cooking their favourite recipes to celebrate Diversity Month. Interviewees ranked the firm highly for its D&I efforts overall: “Lots of my peers joined the firm because they were so impressed with the visibility we have,” said one, while another added that “there’s a lot of open conversation around topics like religious observations; trainees spoke about their experiences of Ramadan during lockdown and wrote blogs about Eid that were circulated throughout the firm.” RS recently made the employee handbook gender-neutral too.

There are still a few impromptu gatherings within teams though, lockdowns permitting. For example: “Asset finance has long hours, so every so often people would say, ‘I’ve had enough, let’s go to the pub!’ One day in the summer the cricket was being shown in Broadgate Circle, so we got a beer and watched a bit of it, which was lovely and quite different to reviewing loan docs or whatever we were doing!” All of this was felt to produce a culture with “very little judgement or negativity. In the main people stay positive – even when the stresses of the job are at their most acute.

Enough room at the inn 

The NQ process varies depending on the group trainees want to qualify into: some groups set case studies, some do multiple interview rounds, and some don’t interview at all: “There are always enough jobs because we’re a relatively small intake. They want to retain as many people as possible.” In 2020, 19 of 26 qualifiers were retained.


The firm's pro bono work

Pro bono “is massively emphasised” at the firm, perhaps because such matters are a big deal in the US (although even here Reed Smith stands out for its commitment). “Nobody ever gets annoyed that you’re doing pro bono rather than standard client billable work,” said a trainee. Following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the firm created a dedicated advisory platform for all employment-related Covid queries. There’s much more beyond this, and a lot of RS’ pro bono involves representing children, especially when it comes to helping them with their rights to stay in the UK: “We pride ourselves on that work.”We heard there’s a 100% trainee participation rate in pro bono matters, and once trainees graduate to the NQ ranks they can count up to 140 pro bono hours towards their billable hours requirement. In fact, RS is so keen on pro bono it recently introduced a seat dedicated solely to this work. Trainees can also choose to go on a pro bono secondment to human rights organisations like Liberty and Reprieve.

Compensation at Reed Smith

Despite upping the salary “every six months since I’ve been here,”the firm’s approach to compensation still received mixed reviews: “We’re always the last to implement pay rises,” a source commented. “We don’t pay the highest, but we don’t pay the least. We’re a normal City firm!”said another, indirectly referencing the sky-high NQ salaries that are paid at a handful of other US outfits in London. RS increased its NQ pay to £90,000 in January 2020 and upped bonuses for those who exceed expectations (the billing target was also increased from 1,650 to 1,700 hours for NQs). However, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, billing targets were revised back down to their original figures and base salaries for associates, counsel and partners were hit by a roughly 13% cut. The London office also saw 20 jobs cut and US offices lost 115 support staff. Nonetheless, the London office entered the pandemic in a strong position after raking in a cool $215 mill’ in 2019 revenue, marking its third consecutive year of growth.

Reed Smith LLP

Broadgate Tower,
20 Primrose Street,

  • Partners 116*
  • Fee earners: 256* (excluding partners, but including trainees)
  • Total trainees: 52
  • *denotes UK figures
  • UK offices London
  • Overseas offices Abu Dhabi, Athens, Beijing, Century City, Chicago, Dallas, Dubai, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Houston, Kazakhstan, Los Angeles, Miami, Munich, New York, Paris, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Princeton, Richmond, San Francisco, Shanghai, Silicon Valley, Singapore, Tysons, Washington DC, Wilmington.
  • Contacts 
  • Graduate recruiter: Holly Allen Graduate Recruitment Manager
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: 25
  • Applications pa: 1,500
  • Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
  • Vacation scheme places pa: 20-22
  • Dates and deadlines  
  • Training contract applications open: TBC*
  • Training contract deadline, 2023 start: TBC*
  • Vacation scheme applications open: TBC*
  • Vacation scheme 2021 deadline: TBC* *please check the website
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £45,000
  • Second-year salary: £49,000
  • Post-qualification salary: £90,000
  • Holiday entitlement: 25 days
  • Sponsorship 
  • LPC fees: Yes
  • GDL fees: Yes
  • Maintenance grant pa: GDL: £6,000, LPC: £7,000
  • International and regional 
  • Overseas seats: Dubai, Singapore, Athens, Paris 
  • Client secondments: Yes

Firm profile

Reed Smith is a dynamic international law firm dedicated to helping clients move their businesses forward. Our belief is that by delivering smarter and more creative legal services, we will not only enrich our clients’ experiences with us, but also support them in achieving their business goals. Our longstanding relationships, international outlook, and collaborative structure makes us the go-to partner for the speedy resolution of complex disputes, transactions, and regulatory matters.

Main areas of work

Our practice groups include: commercial disputes, energy and natural resources, entertainment and media, finance, real estate and transportation. Our lawyers work with some of the most innovative organisations in the world — from multi-billion dollar Silicon Valley giants to national banks. We have even represented some of the biggest pop stars on the planet.

Training opportunities

Ambitious and entrepreneurial graduates are rewarded at Reed Smith with a training programme that is supportive, challenging and exciting, offering unparalleled client and international secondments. Our unique culture, which allows trainees to turn passions into careers, is one of the reasons our lawyers remain with us for such a long time, moving seats, jobs roles and even countries, but sticking with the firm.

We offer stimulating work in an informative, challenging and busy environment where your contribution counts from the year before you join, with our unique LPC/LLM programme, through to the end of your training contract. With four seats over two years, you choose the practice or industry group areas you would like to experience, as well as benefiting from a client or international secondment. Our intake per year is 25, meaning that at any given time, we will have 50 trainees in total. At Reed Smith, we encourage all trainees to partake in either a client or international secondment. There are a number of benefits we feel our trainees gain from doing so, including building commercial awareness and gaining knowledge of our clients, our industries and our business. There is a remarkable choice of secondments available for trainees. There are vacancies for training contracts commencing in February 2021 and beyond, which you can apply for via a Vacation Scheme.

Vacation placements

Our winter and summer vacation schemes offer students the opportunity to gain a strong insight into life at Reed Smith, as well as providing a solid account of the type of work encountered as a trainee. The winter vacation scheme lasts one week and gives the students the chance to experience one seat, and the summer vacation schemes last two weeks, letting them try two seats. Alongside their seats, students will have the opportunity to attend various sessions to improve their legal and business skills. These include a pro bono exercise and a variety of workshops, covering topics such as cultural intelligence, presentation skills, and business development. These sessions, alongside feedback from the seats, will allow the Graduate Recruitment Team and other people from across the business to assess the students suitability for becoming a Reed Smith Trainee. Additionally, throughout the vacation scheme, the attendees will get to experience the real culture of our firm through informal, relaxed socials alongside our trainees.

Other benefits

In addition to a competitive salary (for 2020, not less than £45,000 pa in London), our trainee solicitor benefits package includes: 25 days’ annual holiday, cycle to work scheme, subsidised cafeteria, discounted gym membership, permanent health insurance, dental insurance, season ticket loan and much more.

Open days and first-year opportunities

Undergraduate open days: Applications will open October 2020.

University law careers fairs 2020

We will be hosting and attending a mix of events in partnership with universities and societies.

Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing
We value our people regardless of their race, gender, sexual identity, religion, background, age, or where they were born. Everyone matters here. Through inclusion, we encourage stronger performance, collaboration, teamwork and innovation in all we do.

As leaders in driving the progress of diversity and inclusion, we have a unique approach: unlike traditional diversity programs, ours is focused on inclusion. We want everyone to be included, at every level. Our inclusion culture also makes commercial sense. By focusing on how all our diverse individuals can feel included, we increase their engagement, opportunities, and involvement. We boost their chances of promotion and compensation. And this supports our recruitment of the best people – from all kinds of backgrounds and will all kinds of experience – who bring us the best results.

Our internal networks:
Multicultural Network (MCN) – promotes cultural diversity within the firm, with a focus on attracting, recruiting, and promoting BAME individuals.

LEADRS (Looking for Excellence and Advancement of Persons with Disabilities at Reed Smith) – supports and enhances the professional and personal development of those with all types of disabilities, both mental and physical. It helps us show that jobs for people with disabilities are both available and achievable at the top of the legal profession.

PRISM (Pride, Respect and Inclusion Simply Matter) – champions inclusion for LGBT+ individuals, and acts as a forum for socialising, mentoring and networking in our firm and the wider LGBT+ community.

WINRS (Women’s network) – a growing global community dedicated to enhancing our workplace to more effectively develop, reward, engage, and attract women in the legal profession. 

Social media

Twitter @reedsmithllp

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020

Ranked Departments

    • Banking & Finance: Lenders: Mid-Market (Band 3)
    • Banking Litigation (Band 4)
    • Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 4)
    • Construction: Contentious (Band 5)
    • Construction: Non-contentious (Band 5)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 3)
    • Employment: Employer (Band 4)
    • Environment (Band 3)
    • Information Technology (Band 4)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 4)
    • Litigation (Band 5)
    • Pensions (Band 5)
    • Real Estate Finance (Band 5)
    • Real Estate: Big-Ticket (Band 5)
    • Asset Finance: Shipping Finance (Band 2)
    • Commodities: Derivatives & Energy Trading (Band 1)
    • Commodities: Physicals (Band 1)
    • Commodities: Trade Finance (Band 2)
    • Data Protection & Information Law (Band 4)
    • Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 4)
    • Fraud: Civil (Band 5)
    • Insurance: Mainly Policyholders (Band 1)
    • International Arbitration: Investor-State Arbitration (Band 3)
    • Media & Entertainment: Film & Television (Band 3)
    • Media & Entertainment: Gaming, Social Media & Interactive Content (Band 2)
    • Media & Entertainment: Music (Band 3)
    • Shipping (Band 1)

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